Creating a Successful Water Efficiency Program

Achieving an effective water efficiency program requires developing a comprehensive water management plan. This plan focuses on continuous improvement and integrates water management planning into an organization’s overall strategic planning. The steps outlined in Table 1 can be used as a model for a successful water efficiency program.   The program can stand alone or be integrated into an organization’s overall pollution prevention program, environmental management system, or cost reduction program.

Table 1. Steps for a Successful Water Efficiency Program
Step 1 Establish commitment and goals
Step 2 Develop support and resources
Step 3 Survey water use and develop a facility water balance
Step 4 Identify water efficiency opportunities
Step 5 Develop and implement water management plan
Step 6 Track results and publicize success
Step 7 Update water management plan

Establish Commitment and Goals   Management commitment is key to a successful water efficiency program by ensuring that adequate human and financial resources are allocated. After collecting initial information on water usage, the organization can establish water efficiency goals. At individual facilities, staff may choose to reduce overall water consumption by a set percentage or, if possible, set a goal based on a baseline index (e.g. gallons of water per pound of product manufactured).

Develop Support and Resources   A water efficiency coordinator and water conservation team should be designated to oversee and implement all aspects of the water efficiency program. The team should represent diverse groups, including facility management, engineering and maintenance, sanitation, operations, wastewater treatment, and outside assistance providers (e.g. Pollution Prevention Assistance Division (P2AD), local water and wastewater utilities, consultants).

Survey Water Use and Develop Facility Water Balance   Facility staff perform a water audit to characterize all water uses at a facility including flow rates, flow direction, and quality requirements. This information can be collected from a facility walk-through, interviews, utility bills, facility drawings, operations data, equipment and plumbing fixture specifications, water meter readings, and the simple “bucket and stopwatch” test. During the water audit, the team calculates the true cost of water, including water and sewer costs, wastewater pretreatment costs, on-site water treatment costs, and energy costs for heating or pumping water.

Identify Water Efficiency Opportunities   After water uses and costs are characterized, the water efficiency team develops a list of potential water efficiency opportunities, and prioritizes these opportunities based on potential water savings, cost, feasibility, and operation and maintenance requirements. Water efficiency measures can include retrofit and replacement options, as well as behavioral and operational changes. Before implementing any water efficiency measure, it is important to consider compliance with USDA and FDA regulations, environmental regulations such as wastewater discharge limits, building and plumbing codes, and product quality requirements.

Table 2. Target Areas for Water Efficiency
Cooling and heating
Process rinsing and cleaning
Domestic use
Kitchen use
Outdoor use

Develop and Implement Water Management Plan Once the team decides on water efficiency measures, a work schedule and responsible parties are established for implementing each measure. While internal personnel may implement some measures within a few days, others may take several months and require outside contractors. The water management plan may also include the items from the first four steps of the water efficiency program including goals, water balance, water costs, and rationale for choosing water efficiency measures.

Track Results and Publicize Success Publicizing the success of your water efficiency program will encourage employee participation, enhance community and customer relations, and stimulate similar water management efforts. The results of the program can be discussed in staff meetings, posted on bulletin boards, and published in newsletters and annual reports.

Update Water Management Plan Many times, water efficiency efforts are limited to an engineering report that is read once and never looked at again. The water management plan should be viewed as a dynamic document; the facility water balance, goals, implementation schedule, and responsible parties should be reviewed and updated periodically.